Friday, May 26, 2006

Revelation: Accumulated Theophanies

by Noah Farkas

On Shavuot we celebrate the historical event of Mount Sinai, when God revealed the Divine Presence to the People, culminating in the finite-infinite relationship codified in the Book of the Law. Theologically speaking, the word revelation is problematic in two ways. First, it implies a dichotomy between what is revealed and unrevealed. A thing which is revealed is out in the open, known and experienced. In contrast, a God who is unrevealed is somehow hidden, separated wholly or in part from the world of humanity, and that this separation 'hides' God from the people. This theological position culminates in the concept of hester panim or God’s hidden face, leaving humanity suspended between two finalities. The first, God’s face-to-face revelation charges humanities existence with moral imperative. The second, the final redemption stands over and against humanity in judgment, either affirming or condemning humanity’s existence. Between these two points lives history, a collected account of all human interaction. This implies a moment of encounter and a history of hiddeness. Human interaction, then, is meaningless insofar as the present is concerned. Human interaction only carries the import of an uncertain future to which an accounting will be made. Here, history’s goal is only eschatological, seeking only its end. The telos of history, as we have learned, has many times forsaken the present, imparting no meaning for us.
However, chains of flourishing human experience entail encounters with moments of transcendence. These transcendent events infuse our lives at any time and in any place. Thus any notion of a hidden God seems out of place and undeveloped. It is not that God is hidden from us, but that we have not recognized God's eternal presence. In that sense, God is not hidden or eclipsed in history, but simply unrealized. To use a biblical metaphor, God is not in the thunderous clap of lighting and in the call of the shofar, but the “still, small voice” found in the background of the world. God here is unrealized because we do not see what is already in front of us. We see the lighting and thunder, but not the silence.
Secondly, the word revelation signifies some conscious act on either the part of God or the theist to reveal a hidden truth. The act of realization and the encounter with the transcendent is passive both on the part of human and the part of the Divine. An instance of realization comes when it does, at any moment, not by any willed act. When I encounter thoughts or events that bring me to realize independent worlds other than myself, I did not will the experience, but discover it. When I face that which is beyond, independent of me, I encounter that which transcends my being. Thus in my passivity I find transcendence. The Divine remains passive too, flowing eternally through world permeating every moment with miracles. In my encounter with transcendence, I find miracles of the everyday.
The accumulated theophanies found in the moment of realization are the closest phenomena we come to any substantive revelation. They inspire, guide, and focus our lives in meaningful ways. They string our daily lives together like a pearl necklace, where each pearl is a normative experience, living our lives in materiality, and the string that binds them together, connects the first pearl to the second and so forth. Taking this model, we live our lives always in potential. We can find ourselves at the foot of Mount Sinai everyday, every moment pregnant with a possible theophany.
What then of history? In a theology of realization, history constantly affirms the present. No longer a period between two finalities, history represents possibility for every present to be redemptive. God, never hidden, but only unrealized, infuses every human interaction with transcendent worth. Thus every moment in human history contains the possibility of meaning for both its time and the present. On Shavuot, when we ritualize theophany, we should celebrate the holiday both affirming the Sinai event while simultaneously affirming God in our everyday realization of the Divine Presence.

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